Challenges and ways to build resilience to climate change in Dhaka City
Sarder Shafiqul Alam and Masroora Haque

Dhaka city -- our home and topic of much conversation and debate. An ancient city, born during the Moghul period, experienced a stall in growth during the colonial era, only to rapidly grow after partition, culminating in the mega city growth starting from Independence. This growth has meant unprecedented migration, a boom in economic and commercial activity, all putting tremendous pressure on the city’s land, infrastructure and services. Add to that the threat of climate change, there is an urgent need for all of us to pay attention to the city’s needs to avoid looming peril.

The annual population growth in Dhaka is 6.9% according to a paper by S Hossain titled, “Migration, Urbanisation, and poverty in Dhaka, Bangladesh.” In another study published by A Ishtiaque and  MS Ullah titled, “The influence of factors of migration on the migration status of rural-urban migrants in Dhaka,” around 400,000 people migrate to Dhaka every year. The latest census by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics says that 30,551 people live in 1sq-km of land, making Dhaka Metropolitan area among the most densely populated places in the world.

The surrounding area of Dhaka is mainly low-lying with a few rivers. This, combined with the lack of sanitation infrastructure and inadequate drainage systems, makes the city especially susceptible to flooding from torrential rains and river floods. Many wetlands and canals have been filled up and built upon to the meet the needs for housing, roads and industry, which has meant a collapse of the natural drainage system of the city. This has increased the rate of flooding as heavy rains are not able to drain out or collect in water bodies.

Most of the city was inundated by river floods in 1988, 1998, 2004, 2007 and the most recent bout of floods are all a sign of things to come. With increased rainfall and inadequate drainage systems, water logging is a major issue with sewage water mixing in with the main water line. This causes health hazards for the city’s residents, especially those living in informal settlements.

40% of the city’s population live in these informal settlements and the numbers are increasing every day. Many of them are migrants who have moved from hazard prone areas, after having lost their homes and livelihoods to river erosion, floods, cyclones, and storm surges. Just about anyone coming to Dhaka city from rural or other urban areas have come in search of better employment opportunities and to ensure their family has enough to eat. A recent study conducted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in the Beguntil and Dhalpur slums in Dhaka found that water supply and sanitation are the worst affected by torrential rains, floods, and water -ogging. Slum dwellers also suffer from extreme heat stress.

Most slums are not given legal recognition and are built on both government and private land. Neither type of land owner provide their tenants and residents with adequate infrastructure or services such as water supply, sanitary latrines, electricity or gas lines. Slum populations live almost as refugees despite being legal citizens of the country.  There are a number of NGOs working to elevate their socio-economic status by providing tube wells, sanitary latrines, education, and health, but these are temporary in nature as much of the support depends on project funds and duration.

Urban climate change resilience (UCCR) is a process that all of us living and working in a city need to start paying attention to in the coming years. UCCR first helps us understand the impacts of climate change in urban environments and then catalyses a process that helps cities adapt to its impacts by reducing risks. The systems and institutions that help a city survive and bounce back from climatic disasters needs the multiple actions and the involvement of everyone to make a city resilient to climate change.

Presently in Dhaka, most of the infrastructure, services, and population is not resilient to climatic shocks. To combat the twin wicked problems of climate change and inadequate infrastructure and services, we can look at the following avenues for solutions:

Leadership role of the government: The government’s urbanisation policy and plan must consider the potential impacts of climate change.  The government should take lead in providing better quality of housing, water supply, sanitation, employment opportunities, and other services for the poor, who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Government should regularly update population demography and socio-economic data of the city to make any resilient plan and implement the plan effectively. City development activities of NGOs and private sector should be base on government policies.

Reducing migration to Dhaka: The population migrating to Dhaka city needs to be absorbed by other cities such as district headquarters and port cities. Therefore, city activities need to be more decentralised and create livelihood opportunities in these areas so that rural people migrating from those particular areas stay within it. City governments need to have more autonomy and power to make decisions and implement programs to create livelihood opportunities in their jurisdiction.

EPZs in port and district areas: Port cities such as Mongla, Paira and all districts cities should have established labour intensive industries; like garment factories, EPZs  to absorb district or regional migrants. In turn, these centres will also grow, develop and contribute to the country’s GDP. Government policies and programs should look at creating facilities that will increase investment by national and international investors.

Education and skills development: Good education and skills development facilities are almost exclusively located in Dhaka. These need to be spread out all over the country to ensure that centres around the country and getting a skilled, educated pool of labour. Industry and commerce will also be more willing to relocate to those areas where there is skilled labour available. 

Sarder Shafiqul Alam is the Urban Climate Change Program Coordinator of ICCCAD and Masroora Haque is the Communications Coordinator of ICCCAD

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